BTO migration blog

Spring and autumn are exciting times for anyone who watches birds. Here on this blog we will make predictions about when to expect migrant arrivals and departures, so that you know when and where to see these well-travelled birds.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Migration in full swing

It feels strange writing a migration blog for Britain when I am much
closer to Oslo than London. With Fair Isle so far north, it is to be
expected that winter visitors might turn up earlier than further south
and there is definitely a taste of winter. Since arriving, the Snow
Bunting flock has grown, and the first Fieldfare of the autumn has
been joined by small flocks of Redwings.
Snow Buntings by Trevor Codlin

Summer hasn't given up quite yet though; there are still small numbers
of Whinchats, Wheatears, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers, all birds that
are making their way to Africa. These summer visitors were joined
today by a Swallow and a House Martin.
Whinchat by Trevor Codlin

Further south, migration is in full swing. Swallows are moving out of
the country in force, and the first Brent Geese are turning up, it
really is a great time to see summer meeting winter. It is also a
great time to see rare and scarce visitors, particularly here on Fair
Isle. Yesterday saw a record count of Yellow-browed Warblers turn up.
A remarkable 53 were found around the island, remarkable not only
because no other single site has received this many on a single day
before, but because the normal wintering area for this species is Southeast Asia.
Yellow-browed Warbler by Trevor Codlin

Back on the mainland, birdwatchers are reporting large numbers of Siskins on their BirdTrack lists and a ringer in Thetford reported over 400 Siskins ringed in his garden on Friday. The BirdTrack graph below shows the remarkable peak in Siskin reporting rate compared to previous years.
Reporting rate for Siskin from

The forecast high-pressure system should see migration continue apace,
with more summer visitors leaving and winter visitors arriving.
Chiffchaff should begin to outnumber Willow Warblers at coastal
watch-points and we could all see Redwings. Strong westerly winds have already brought north American landbirds to the UK in the form of a Blackpoll Warbler and a Grey-cheeked Thrush, both at St Agnes on the Isles of Scilly. With strong westerlies forecast for the next week we could see more getting blown across the Atlantic.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Winter visitors and rarities

The emphasis has been very much on drift migrants; birds that are moving south in continental Europe and that get caught up in a weather system that drifts them across the North Sea. These conditions often involve birds such as Red-backed Shrikes, Bluethroats, and Barred Warblers but at this time of the year these are the scarce migrants and they are often accompanied by Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts, Willow Warblers, Whinchats, Lesser Whitethroats and Meadow Pipits. 

Red-backed Shrike by Luke Delve

Now is also the time to keep an eye out for winter visitors, Redwing, Fieldfare and Snow Bunting are all on the cards and, at least here in the east, Siskins are on the move in large numbers, seeking out bird feeders in gardens as they go.

Siskin by Luke Delve

However, the weather for the next week or so looks like it could be dominated by storms that have crossed the Atlantic and we may well see a few birds being brought with it. At this time of the year American Wood Warblers are on the move and it is possible that one or two might get caught up in the weather fronts, Yellow-rumped Warbler is a possibility but who knows, maybe something much rarer could occur; another American Redstart and Blackburnian Warbler is long overdue. Buff-breasted Sandpiper is also an early North American migrant and is probably favourite to turn up.

Blackburnian Warbler by Luke Delve

Our satellite-tagged Cuckoos are now well on their way with the last bird in Europe finally making his way into Africa. Charlie the Cuckoo has finally left Greece and is currently in Libya, embarking on his desert crossing. Coo is also the first to move down to the Congo Rainforest, having left Chad in the last couple of days. Follow the Cuckoos here.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Autumn is here

One Swallow doesn’t make a summer but small flocks on the move at this time of the year are a sure sign that autumn is here. On days when the weather permits some of the staff at the BTO’s headquarters in Thetford, Norfolk, meet in the grounds during morning and afternoon coffee time. This week, the overhead northerly movement of small flocks of Swallows has been a feature. Swallows heading north at this time of the year seems a little wrong, surely they should be making their way south, flying to warmer climes for the winter?

This northerly movement is often observed in other parts of the country and a possible explanation is that these birds are heading to a communal roost that is to the north of their favoured feeding areas. However, some of these birds might be heading north to the north Norfolk coast before turning and following the coast south – the majority of bird movement is observed along the coast. It seems that birds are reluctant to just head out to sea and will move along the coast before they have no choice but to cross the sea.

Swallow by John Harding

This week has seen a good number of birds drifting across the North Sea – Wrynecks were reported from at least 70 different locations, an impressive 40 Red-backed Shrikes, 25 Icterine Warblers and 20 Barred Warblers were also seen around Britain. All of these birds will have spent the summer in northern and eastern Europe and are making their way to Africa for the winter.  There has also been a flavour of the south this week. A record flock of Cattle Egrets arrived on the south coast and settled for a short time just north of Christchurch, Dorset, before heading off north up the Avon valley, and at least six Hoopoes were reported around the country.

Common migrants have also been well represented and numbers of Wheatears on the move have swelled, joining the ever growing number of flycatchers and warblers that are being seen at coastal watchpoints such as Hengistbury Head and Portland, both in Dorset.

Offshore, skuas and terns have kept migration watchers busy but with the wind now coming from the north, and forecast to do so for most of next week, we might see the arrival of some of our winter visitors during the next few days. The first flocks of Pink-footed Geese, Redwings and Fieldfares could well be on the cards, and who knows, we might get an early rarity from the far north, possibly a Brunnich’s Guillemot?

Brunnich's Guillemot by Edmund Fellowes